First-Hand:Petros N. Papas

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This short biography highlights who I am and how I became an Electrical Engineer, Power specialty.

l was born in Greece in 1933. WWII brought about the German occupation of Greece. I survived WWII, from ages 7 through 13. After the war, I was fortunate to befriend a family of brothers that represented a variety of professions. There was a Chemist, a Doctor, a Photographer and a Civil Engineer. I spend time with them observing their work. I got to liking the engineer, with his graphs, his slide rule etc., perhaps because I was very good in math and geometry. I decided I was going to be an Engineer.

About the same time, at 8th grade, my father wanted me to learn French, so he enrolled me at a Jesuit School in Athens. I spent only a year there. Two classes helped my next decision. The Math teacher was excellent. It opened my eyes wider to the beauty of mathematics. It strengthened my wish to become an engineer. The other was the Greek Language teacher. He happened to have studied in the States at Harvard. He told stories about his life in the USA. I said to myself “not a bad place to visit.”

Next, we had to select an Engineering school. Only one choice in Greece, the Polytechnion. But at that time in Greece, everyone believed that the best engineering school was MIT. My father helped (regretted it later, because I ended staying here in the States) to send me to America. Contacted his cousin John Papas in Chicago who agreed to sponsor my student’s visa.

I came to America in Sept, of 1949. Spent junior and senior years of high school at St. John’s Military Academy in Wisconsin. Then went to Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Uncle John insisted on IIT because his son had gone to Armor, its predecessor.

At IIT I thought that Chemical Engineering was my best choice, as nuclear engineering in its infancy, was part of the Chem E Dept. But I had year, at least, to decide, as freshman year is common to all engineering disciplines. By then I talked to other Greek students at IIT and family at home, and decided to follow a path that would be very helpful in Greece’s economy. I decide to study EE, with Power as the specialty. The plan was: upon graduation, I would return to Greece and help build its Power Grid, thus helping the economy. Luckily, IIT was ranked among the best for studying Power, so I felt comfortable.

I worked hard. I was ready to graduate. But in my senior year I met Irene and fell instantly in love. We were married upon graduation. Incidentally, I am blessed with a wonderful family. Of course, the marriage changed plans. I was going to become an American citizen. And now, my career path changed to becoming a EE professor. But, a successful professor needs to have a Ph. D. So, I embarked on a journey of raising a family, working and going to school, all at the same time. Summary: BSEE in 1955, MSEE in 1957 and Ph. D. EE in 1962.

Next comes Westinghouse and Pittsburgh. This decision is easy to explain. I looked around IIT and the best professors had Industrial experience. So, the logical decision is to get a job in Industry for 5 years, and then go back to Academia and teaching. A couple of the EE professors had worked at Westinghouse, including my advisor, W.A. Lewis. Incidentally Dr. Lewis was a member of the group that formed IEEE, during the time that I was at IIT. Dr. Lewis helped me get a job at the Analytical Dept of Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh. It was the time in industry that a new technology, digital computers, was emerging. The (W) Analytical Dept. was at the forefront of digital computing.

My work at (W) was fascinating and enjoyable. I fell in love with Modeling, Simulation and Controls. And just before 5 years were up, I got promoted to management! Kind new to an analytical engineer. Had to go to courses and learn some new things. Well, I liked management better than teaching! And that is how I stayed with Westinghouse. I still love teaching. In fact, I taught at Pitt, CMU, Penn State and the local Community College – a needed supplementary income.

I am convinced that ‘Pittsburgh is the birthplace of modern civilization.’ I have asked IEEE history center for help making it official, and Dr. Michael N. Geselowitz, the director, proposed that I write a First-Hand contribution that showed how I chose EE-Power and how I came to Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. To be where I am today surprises me all the time. You can see that the path to my EE Power education and Westinghouse is made up of branches, chosen by decisions at each node. Each decision seemed logical at the time. So here I am, championing a “bold assertion” at the age of 85, because I believe it to be a true statement and a proper tribute to Westinghouse and Tesla.